If you asked me to name the #1 mistake people make when buying boots, I wouldn't hesitate before answering:
"Buying boots that don't fit."
Because boots are not sneakers. They need breaking in. No pair of boots will be 100% comfortable from the get-go.
The good thing is - you can tell whether the boot fits right by following 4 simple boot fitting tips that I'm going to share with you today.
Side note: I wrote this guide to help you get a proper fit on tactical, combat & military boots. But the boot sizing tips that I'm going to share with you apply to all the boot types.
So, let's jump right into it.
- Health Consequences of the Wrong Boot Size
- Tip #1: Flex Point
- Tip #2: Heel
- Tip #3: Width
- Tip #4: Toe Box Room
- Arch Support & Flat Feet
- Boot Socks
- Breaking In Your Boots
- The Final Word
How Boots Should Fit: 30-Second-Summary
- Your entire foot should feel snug EXCEPT for your heel. Your heel will always slip a little in a properly fitted new boot. The slippage will disappear when you've broken in the boot.
- Have a bit of wiggle room for your toes in the front of the boots. Your feet will swell in the evening, which is why you need that extra room.
- The ball of your foot should sit at the widest part of the sole of the boot. In other words - the widest part of your foot needs to be at the widest part of the boot.
- Wear thick socks when trying on the boots. Most boots are made to be worn with thick socks. They'll also protect you from blisters.
Health Consequences of the Wrong Boot Size
Sure enough, wearing boots that don't fit you is uncomfortable. But if you wear boots that don't fit for extended periods of time... they can ruin your feet.
Here's what happens.
You can seriously mess up your feet by wearing boots that don't fit. It's not worth it under any circumstances. So let's take a look at how a good pair of boots should fit.
Tip #1: Flex Point
Every boot has a natural break point - it's at the widest part of the boot. Where your boot bends when you walk with it. That's the flex point.
Flex point is crucial for getting the right fit.
Because it needs to be aligned with your foot. Your foot bends at the toes. That's also where the boot needs to bend when you're wearing it.
If your boot bends at the wrong point, it'll rub against your foot. Your foot will slide back and forth when you walk. The toe box might start pinching on your toes.
Tip #2: Heel
More specifically - heel slippage. It's one of the most common problems you'll when trying on new boots. Almost all boots will have it. The real question is how much heel slippage is too much.
Some heel slippage - 1/4" to 1/2" - is OK. It will fix itself in 1-2 months when you break in the boots. So don't worry if there's a little slippage.
In fact, if there is no slippage the boots will feel too stiff on your feet. Especially if the soles don't bend.
Now, if you have too much heel slippage, here's why:
- The boot is not laced tight enough. Solution: Push back the heel and lace tight.
- The boot is not broken in. Solution: If the slippage is not too serious, it will go away by itself with time.
- The boot is too long for you. Solution: Either return it or try inserting a heel grip.
- The boot is too high for you. Solution: Either return or insert a tongue pad to compensate for height.
Tip #3: Width
You can usually get the length right. Width is the real issue. Here's what happens:
You get a pair of boots that are just a little bit too tight. Instead of sending them back, you decide to keep them. Hoping that they'll stretch out with time.
It's a mistake. They won't.
If your boots are too tight, they will compress the ball of your foot. This will lead to discomfort and inflammation. Make sure that the width of the boot is comfortable from the start.
The good thing is - most companies make boots in different widths. From narrowest to widest, they are: AAA, AA, A, B, C, D, E, EE, EEE. The D width is considered to be "medium".
Most likely, you already know if your feet are wide or narrow. If you don't - or if you'd like to be 100% sure - here's how you can measure your feet at home.
Side note: Most boots will stretch. But only by about a millimeter.
Tip #4: Toe Box Room
Excess toe room is not a problem when the flex point and heel are right. A half inch to an inch of toe room is usually about right.
Make sure that your toe box is not too small. Your toes need adequate room because your foot swells over the course of the day. Your toes will be bigger in the evening than they were in the morning.
You should never size down the boot to reduce your toe room. If the toe box has some extra space but everything else about the boot fits - keep it that way.
Because a bigger toe box has no downsides. While a smaller one will compress your foot and cause all sorts of problems.
Arch Support & Flat Feet
Arch support only matters if you have flat feet. If you have a well-arching foot, you don't need arch support.
Most boots come without arch support. If you have flat feet, you can get some cheap orthodontic insoles to fix that.
If you want to see whether you have flat feet, check out the "measure your feet at home" test that I linked to above.
Boot socks are a necessity. They are thicker than athletic socks. They give you additional padding in your heel and toe areas.
The extra padding reduces your chance of getting hotspots and blisters. Especially while you're breaking in the boots - thick socks are a lifesaver.
When it comes to sock materials, we recommend you to go with a wool/nylon blend.
Here are 5 reasons why wool is Great:
- Wool can absorb a high amount of moisture — much more than cotton. Wool can hold a third of its weight in moisture before it even starts to feel "wet."
- Unlike cotton, wool is a great insulator. Wool is great for keeping your feet warm in the cold.
- Wool keeps its insulating properties while wet, which is perfect for sweaty feet.
- Wool dries faster than cotton or other synthetics.
- Wool is anti-bacterial and odor resistant. This means that you can wear wool socks multiple times before washing, without them smelling.
Breaking Your Boots In
The break-in period is the time that it takes:
- For your foot to adjust to the boot
- For the boot to adjust to your foot
Your boot will not fit 100% before it's broken in.
All boots have break-in periods. But the length of the break-in period depends on your feet and the boot.
I had a pair of LOWA's that needed almost no breaking in. A pair of Rocky S2V's that I had took about a week. My old hiking boots took about a month to break in.
You should break in your boots gradually:
- Wear them around the house
- Do some gardening work
- Take a walk around your neighborhood
At least for a couple of days.
The Final Word
Whether you're trying your boots on in the store. Or you've just received a package from Amazon or Zappos. The rules apply all the same.
You now have everything you need to make sure your boots fit right.
Follow the steps above and you'll be fine.
Oh, and keep in mind that not every brand out there will fit you. If one doesn't, try another. This is especially true if you have wide or narrow feet.
How did you like the article? Did I cover everything, or should anything be added?
Let me know in the comments!